A RTS on the Playstation 2? That’s what Grim Grimoire is except there is less focus on building your base and much more combat. Each battle puts you in control of Lillet Blan, a new student at a magician’s academy who can summon magic runes. Usually, Lillet doesn’t start in a battle on her own, she is granted an initial group of gathering units and a small force of offensive troops. The troops Lillet has are not a large enough force to start an attack, but the small group of fairies or demons can easily defend your base from an initial attack.
The first thing you want to do is secure a nearby mana crystal with your gathering units. Once you take hold of a crystal your elves, ghosts or blobs will continue to bring mana back to Lillet until the crystal dries up. There are four different basic gathering units, one for each “element” in Grim Grimoire. Lillet only starts out with the ability to call elves, a glamour familiar that can learn to heal other units. Blobs are an alchemy familiar that have a spell to slow down enemy troops by putting them in a sticky green ooze. Imps are a sorcery familiar that can be upgraded to attack on top of gathering mana. Ghosts could be considered the best gathering unit, even though they have the least HP. Since ghosts can fly they can gather mana from a crystal straight above you and they can ignore slowly walking up stairs.
Once you have a nice nest egg of mana you can summon familiars from the nearby runes. Lillet’s first rune is the Fairy Ring which lets her summon more elves to mine mana faster, but you probably want to start building an army. First you have to upgrade the rune’s level by spending 100 mana, which allows you to summon fairies. Instead of having to construct a massive base, Grim Grimoire has players upgrade runes to strengthen their army and call different kinds of familiars. The Fairy Ring only lets Lillet summon elves and fairies. However, upgrading it further gives the elves the ability to cast heal and lets the fairies temporarily go into astral form, where they are immune from enemies that can’t do astral damage like imps. Fairies have another huge advantage over other offensive units, they can fly. Battles in Grim Grimoire take place entirely in 2D tower. If you want to move up or down different sections of the field you have to walk up stairs, but while you’re trotting along to the next level you can be attacked by nearby defensive towers. Fairies don’t have to worry about stairs because they can quickly fly up. Also they can clear large gaps by flying over empty space.
However, Grim Grimoire is balanced with a rocks-paper-scissors like system and fairies are weak against alchemy units. The standard alchemy troop is the golem, a machine that shoots fireballs from a distance. Golems are the perfect counter against fairies because golems have range and deal additional damage to glamour units. Since every kind of troop has a weakness against another element you want to build a variety of units to compliment your army. Also different troops have different skills that you may want to use depending on your situation. In the sorcery group you can summon grimalkins, cat familiars who can cast sleep and easily subdue powerful dragons. The Hades Gate necromancy type of rune allows you to summon phantoms, ghostly knights that are always in astral form. Since they are in astral form they can attack imps and golems without the fear of getting hurt.
Since you don’t have a keyboard and mouse controlling Grim Grimoire is notably different when you are in the heat of battle. When you press square all of the action freezes and gives you a chance to issue commands. If you press up on the d-pad you select all of the nearby troops of the same type. So if you click on a fairy and press up all of the fairies around you will automatically form a group so you can issue an order like attack the approaching demon that’s about to smash my Fairy Ring. However, you cannot group together different kinds of units, which is initially frustrating. The reason behind this is when you select a unit type a command ring appears in the bottom right corner where you can select attack, wait and other unique abilities by pressing the shoulder buttons. You’re not going to be able to rapidly issue attack commands, but since time freezes the player has a clear advantage. Also spell casting units are easier to manage because you don’t have to dexterously micromanage an army. If you want to make a homunculus cast Psychic Storm, which deals a continuous stream of damage to units in a small space, you casually select the homunculus and pick the spell from the command menu. The time freeze system makes Grim Grimoire more accessible than other RTS games and in some ways Grim Grimoire could be a gateway RTS.